Students defy Myanmar protest ban at ASEAN summit

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SINGAPORE, Nov 19 (Reuters) A small group of international students at Singapore universities defied a ban on protest in the city-state today with a short-lived march, calling for democracy in Myanmar at a summit of Southeast Asian nations.

Singapore has banned all outdoor protest at the summit of the Association of South East Nations and rejected an opposition party's request to stage a Myanmar protest.

The students dispersed at the summit venue, designated as a ''protected area'' that gave police the authority to search or detain anyone in the area, after police told them to turn around.

''We wish ASEAN would take more pro-active steps to promote human rights within the region. It's not our intention to break the law,'' said Dylan Bird, a student from New Zealand at the National University of Singapore.

Myanmar prime minister Thein Sein is due to arrive in Singapore this afternoon, in the first appearance of a top junta member at an international forum since the regime's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September.

Thein Sein is set to brief leaders of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a dinner today and will also meet Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

''I am calling on the military regime to ease its repression and to release Aung San Suu Kyi,'' said Pia Muzaffar, a British student at the National University of Singapore.

The students had moved around the city-state in groups smaller than four in other to get around police restrictions. Under Singapore laws, any public gathering of more than four people requires a police permit.

Muzaffar and two fellow students had walked hand-in-hand down Singapore's main shopping street Orchard Road, wearing red T-shirts saying ''We pursue peace, justice and democracy for Burma.'' Another band of three students made their way to the summit venue via another road, outnumbered by media and videotaped by Singapore plainclothes police.

Tomorrow ASEAN nations will adopt a charter that advocates democracy and human rights.

Security around the summit venue was tight, with 2,500 police officers mobilised, roadblocks set up in the streets and police searches of anyone going into the area.


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